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Know the role not to play for an alcoholic employee

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in Your Office Coach

Q: “A young man employed with our company has admitted to having a drinking problem. Although ‘Robbie’ performs his duties well and gets along with everyone, he has a lot of absences. His reasons include being sick to his stomach or injuring himself in a fall. He occasionally goes for long periods without missing a day, then suddenly he’ll be gone for quite a while.

“I really value Robbie as an employee and don’t want to replace him. However, if these absences continue, I will have no choice. My hope is that he can get himself straightened out, but he has apparently never sought treatment for his drinking. As his employer, is there anything I can do to help?” Supportive Boss

A: Robbie may very well be an alcoholic, but you can’t become his substance abuse counselor. Nor should you enable him by overlooking frequent absences or accepting weak excuses. However, as his boss, you can offer valuable assistance by highlighting his performance problems and pointing him in the direction of professional help.

If your company has an Employee Assistance Program, talk with one of the counselors before meeting with Robbie. But if not, research treatment options until you identify a reputable and respected substance abuse program in your community.

When you talk with Robbie, explain how frequent and lengthy absences are jeopardizing his continued employment. You can deliver this message by using your company’s disciplinary policy, just as you would with any other non-performing employee. Then, since he has already disclosed his drinking problem, you can suggest seeking help from a qualified professional.

For example: “Robbie, although you do a great job when you’re here, your repeated absences have made you very unreliable. That’s why I’m giving you an official disciplinary warning. Because you have previously mentioned a drinking problem, I’m also giving you the number of a treatment program. However, making that contact is strictly up to you. Your continued employment will depend only on your job performance and attendance record. If nothing changes, I will have to take the next disciplinary step.”

Tell Robbie that he is a valued employee and you want him to succeed, but emphasize that he will lose his job if this problem is not corrected. Sometimes, fear of being fired is the only thing that will get an alcoholic’s attention.

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